THE GEISHA / YOHKIRO (YÔKIRÔ). Viewed on DVD. Director Hideo Gosha's soaper about a geisha house (Youkirou),supposedly the largest in Japan prior to WWII, and the many lives/livelihoods that depend (more or less) on this business. The tale goes something like this: twenty years ago a young mother was killed trying to escape a Yakuza-owned geisha house, but her baby was saved by its father played by Ken Ogata; Ogata's character (OC) becomes a "geisha talent scout" (Zegen) and later sells his pre-teen daughter (and many others) to Youkirou run by OC's former mistresses (now married); OC sells his current mistress (about the same age as OC's daughter) to a local brothel (after she has been rejected by Youkirou--big surprise!) run by a Yakuza gang; the gang plants a geisha spy and trouble maker (using OC) in Youkirou as part of their plan to take over this very lucrative business and turn it into an even more profitable bordello (the spy has wasted little time taking up with the husband of OC's former mistress and is living with him at a mixed-bathing onsen resort); later OC forcibly "rescues" his current mistress (now a rock-star sex attraction) from the brothel (which does not go down well with the Yakuza),and (after a Yakuza stabbing and bombing attack on their noodle restaurant) they plan to leave Japan (for Manchuria) once OC settles his score with the gang (which does not end well); in the mean time, OC's daughter has become pregnant and abandoned, contracts tuberculosis, and lives just long enough to deliver a grand daughter who (apparently) will now live with a married-but-separated-retired-Youkirou-geisha (she seems to have mostly raised OC's daughter) and her bind masseuse son until the kid becomes a pre-teen and can be sold to Youkirou ... (still with me?!). And this is just a partial overview! Gosha has mercilessly pounded (like mochitsuki?) a number of plot lines together all but guaranteeing audience confusion without multiple viewings (which was likely the game plan of the producers all along!). Adding to this mash up is the huge cast of speaking parts the Director deploys. Repetitive makeup, wigs, and costumes make geisha actresses look like CGI clones--about 30 or more--whose mannerisms are identical and (unintentionally?) funny (going overboard on geisha training and under board on direction?). There are several topless shots including a scene of borderline kiddy porn. Atsuko Asano--who manages to display practically everything she owns as OC's current mistress--turns in a fine performance. So does a laid-back Ken Ogata. But the star of this film is veteran actress Mitsuko Baishô whose character runs Youkirou. She plays a strong, mature businesswoman, and is a pure pleasure to watch! Dancing/singing choreography is substandard except, perhaps, for the Charleston sequence (which illustrates the versatility of sex-worker kimono!). Women fight scenes (each includes water) are particularly poorly done and way too long (one occurs in the mix-bathing onsen and involves a large, dangerous-to-conceal (in the nude),pin-like dagger). Score theme is okay, by orchestrated variations thereof are unimaginative and repetitive. There is a choice of subtitle and caption colors (they can also be turned off) with the former appearing at screen bottom and the latter usually at the top. Subtitles consist of yellow/green/white lettering on a black background making them readable no matter the scene lighting. Very effective! Captions provide brief expository, geographical, and grammarian information . It is practically impossible to read subtitles and captions simultaneously without repeat hitting of the pause button. Try multiple watching with, say, the captions initially turned off (this film is so densely packed that you will likely have to watch it several times anyway!) Song lyrics are subtitled. Captions (and supplemental text "bonus" DVD features) seem to go out of their way to distinguish between geisha houses (that sell mostly entertainment and party companionship) and bordellos (that sell mostly sex). There is, of course, an overlap of services provided by each business model and, amusingly, Gosha keeps on reminding the audience of this as, well, a normal fact of life! Recommended, but only on condition that you watch it at least twice! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD. Details: DVD/print = 9/10 stars; subtitles = 9 stars; cinematography (wide screen, color) = 8 stars; lighting = 8 stars; direction = 6 stars; performances = 6 stars; costumes/hair/makeup = 4 stars; score = 4 stars; choreography = 3 stars.
Drama / War
Drama / War
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1933. 20 years before, Katsuzo was in love with a geisha who gave him a daughter. They tried to run away together but they were caught and the woman was killed under his eyes. Now he is a zegen aka a pimp who sells girls to the Yokiro, the biggest geisha house in Southern Japan, run by Osode who used to be his mistress. His daughter who was raised by the Geisha House is now a Great Geisha under the name Momowaka. And his girlfriend, Tamako, wants to become a geisha. Momowaka falls in love, one of Osaka's yakuza clans wants to take control of the Yokiro.
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Surprised so few have seen it
And it definitely deserves higher than a 6.9. I'm giving it an 8 on tough scale. Really remarkable movie. I don't get my kicks shooting down Hollywood movies, but the most obvious comparison of course is Memoirs of a Geisha, and this one squashes it in terms of giving you a believable look into geisha affairs -- alongside a compelling, non-linear story. Performances are solid to great across the board, with Ken Ogata's character becoming an instant-favorite of mine. As I understand it this one was something of an award-winning, all-around big deal in Japan. Would've thought it was headed for major cross-over status, but for whatever reason--the quirky non-linearity of the story probably contributing--it didn't achieve it.